Departing San Jose, Costa Rica Airport – How to Zip Through Effortlessly 2


We hope you had a great time in Costa Rica. The last step is departing from the San Jose, Costa Rica airport. Your experience at an airport can make or break your trip! Read more for our tips on how to zip through the lines – specifically for this airport.

Airplane wing taxiing on ground, departing San Jose, Costa Rica airport (SJO)

The San Jose airport (SJO), near the capital of Costa Rica is a really nice, modern airport, but it’s super busy with a lot of lines and thousands of people milling around. It’s easy to get frustrated, especially with kids, lots of luggage, and bad weather!

Preparation Before Leaving your Hostel

Grab these things from your hostel or a store before you get to the airport and you’ll have less to worry about when you arrive:

  • Passport – sometimes required to enter the airport terminal
  • Airplane Ticket – sometimes required to enter the airport terminal
  • $29 Airport Tax/Fee per Person
  • At least $100 extra cash
  • Black/Blue Ink Pen
  • Water Bottle & Snacks

Be sure you check in online the night before if you can. Spirit airlines requires you print your ticket within 24 hours of your flight, or you can pay $10 at the ticket counter. Sometimes they waive this fee in Costa Rica.

Airport Sunset at Costa Rica with Airplanes in Background

Getting to the San Jose Airport Departure Terminal

The SJO departure terminal is on the top floor. You’ll have to walk there if the bus drops you off, and it’s easy to find in a car. There’s an entrance to the parking lot at both the top and bottom floors, and usually costs only a few dollars to park. There are some screens right at the entrance you can use to check if your flight is on time.

They say that only passengers that show a ticket and/or passport are allowed to enter the terminal, but they don’t enforce this much.

Pay the Costa Rica Airport Fee

There are a lot of lines and people milling around, but not many signs to tell you where to go. The first thing you need to do is pay the airport fee to the tune of $29 per person. This can be paid in US dollars, colónes, or by credit card (with a transaction fee). There is an ATM nearby if you only have pocket change left!

Give them your passport and $29 and they’ll give you back a piece of paper that you need to fill out, and hopefully return your passport! Next step, find the line for your airline ticket counter. Fill out your $29 fee-paper before you get in line!

Airline Ticket Counter

Nearly all flights leaving Costa Rica require you to check in at the ticket counter. Some airlines are starting to use the self check-in kiosks, but they’re not very common. The airline will collect your airport tax slip and print out your tickets. Be sure you fill out a luggage tag for each of your carry-on and check-in bags.

Airport Security Checkpoint

Next, make your way to the opposite end of the building – to the left side if you were entering the airport. The first stop is just to check that you have your ticket and your passport out and ready. The line on the left is for children, minors, and families, and everyone else goes in the right line.

The next stop is the security checkpoint – a less strict than you’re used to in the US. They’ll want you to take your shoes and belt off, take everything metal out of your pockets, and take your laptops out of your bags. They don’t consider liquids to be bombs like they do in the US, so don’t worry about that, yet. You may have to show them later on.

They aren’t as serious as in the US, so just don’t bring any swords or fireworks in your backpack and you should be good.

Waiting Lobbies

Make sure you grab everything from the conveyor belt and head out to the right. There are some screens you can use to double check your flight gate and time. There are many fast food restaurants up the walkway to the left, in a separate dining area. They even have Cinnabon! But also airport prices…

There are a couple snack shacks and fancier restaurants along the walkway in either direction. It’s a good idea to bring a snack with you unless $5 for a tiny bag of chips is an okay supper.

Cinnabon Fast Food Restaurant at the San Jose, Costa Rica Airport

Boarding and Final Security Check

It’s smooth sailing from here on out. Since early 2014 they have been doing one last security check before boarding airplanes headed to the US. They warn you about it about 15 times over the loudspeaker, so you’ll be prepared. They’re checking for large liquid containers and water bottles, which they make you throw away. They aren’t super thorough, but they’re pretty stiff on the “no water bottle” rule, unless it’s empty.

Airplane window, Looking out at other airplanes at SJO airport

Good luck getting through the San Jose, Costa Rica airport. Leave a comment if you had a good trip and good times at the airport!


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2 thoughts on “Departing San Jose, Costa Rica Airport – How to Zip Through Effortlessly

  • Dan Vaught

    We just left there, February 2017 and the process is much simpler now… with our airline, anyway.

    We left our B&B about 5 minutes from the airport at 5:30 am and were sitting in our terminal by 6:30 am, waiting to board our plane.

    Here’s how it went:

    We were able to check in with our airline the day before and our departure tax was included in the price of our tickets. That (kind of) eliminated two lines to wait in. Upon entering SJO we spotted the “Online Check-In” for our airline, which was also the area to drop off our checked luggage. We got about a 1/4 of the way through that line, before we were handed the outgoing customs forms that needed to be filled out (this can be done while waiting in line). This is where I’ll save you some time. If you are in that situation, don’t go to the airline line first… got to the kiosks, you need a printed boarding pass, before dropping off bags / completing check in. You will need your passports at this point (they will be scanned at the kiosks). There are Costa Rican immigration officers there to assist you and hand you the same form that you get in the airline line. On a side note, none of ours spoke English, so there was a lot of gesturing and “ok” signs. The officers at the kiosks may take the customs forms right there or they may take them back at your airline line. Ours took ours at the kiosk and then another one asked for the forms when we were back in line. We gestured that the other officer had collected ours and she said, “ok”. We completed our check luggage drop and final check in and moved to the security checkpoint. Kids and families are now on the right (one counter) and everyone else is on the left (two counters). We screwed up and were pointed in the right direction. The screening went smoothly, and we were in the main terminal very quickly. It was relatively quick and simple. Just get your boarding pass first.